An Epic Tale and An Epic Struggle

By Elizabeth Henzell
For The Bali Times

UBUD ~ Australia – the Baz Luhrmann movie starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman – wasn’t a movie I was racing out to buy, even here, where the cost is a fraction of what you would pay elsewhere. However, with Richard Flanagan, who co-wrote Australia, in town and who will be appearing in-conversation with my good friend Janet De Neefe at Indus this Saturday, June 6, Janet needed to watch it so I tagged along.

This movie took me completely by surprise – I loved it! For someone who has never been very patriotic – I love soccer, not rugby, neither code, nor Australian rules, and I much prefer the lush foliage here in Indonesia to the Australian countryside that my mother loved – I felt this rising pride in being an Australian the minute the movie began. The scenery, a picture-perfect Albert Namatjira painting, the stockmen on their horses and the young star, the little Aboriginal boy, were the Australia that I remembered my mother loved as she grew up in outback Longreach, home of Qantas, in Queensland. But there is a very serious side to this movie and a story that needed to be bought to the worldwide audience.

However, it was no surprise when I met Richard last Saturday evening and he introduced me to his wife, Majda, and their twin 17-year-old daughters, Eliza and Jean, that these girls were exactly as I had imagined, tall, athletic, blonde Aussie netballers – hockey players actually – with the enthusiasm that is synonymous with (some) Australian youth. Their father had told them I was on the hunt for volunteers at BAWA – Bali Animal Welfare Association – each Sunday and they were already agreeing to come along.

Eliza and Jean were also keen to find a good place to run. They were sure, with the amount of motorbikes, that this would be impossible, so I suggested the walk I enjoy each Saturday and Sunday – not run; they could set a faster pace once I had shown them the way – over the Tjamphuan ridge and along to Bangkieng Sidem and back to Ubud via Payogan and Sanggingan. This is a great walk and as it goes past my favourite farming family’s little plot, I suggested they may like to meet them, too.

Our plan was to meet at 7am near Casa Luna. Majda was joining us and was carrying a backpack with two large bottles of water for the girls. I recognised the mother of athletic children – carrying everything to ensure they compete at their best!

So off we went. It’s a beautiful walk, with scenery absolutely unlike anything in the movie and the dogs we encountered in this area are mostly well feed and free of the skin problems that their town-dwelling cousins seem to have. I was looking forward to Majda and the girls meeting Ibu Ketut and her family. They are gentle people and it is really heart-warming to see their humble home with their well-cared-for four-legged family members.

Our arrival was met with the loud barking of their old male dog and Ibu Ketut came out from her tiny wood-fired kitchen to greet us. Her features have a certain Australian Aboriginal look and though she is possibly the same age as me, the hard life she has led makes her look older. I would happily exchange her soft chocolate skin for my sun-damaged complexion, however.

Eliza and Jean were in raptures. They loved the new puppy, who joined the older dog, barking up a treat. Korda is a little black Bali dog and absolutely adored by Ibu Ketut. In another life she would have been a vet; she has such a wonderful way with animals. I ask her about the cats and she brings out the first one that strayed on to the farm about 10 months ago. The girls and Majda weren’t expecting to see the beautiful, plump, tabby-and-white cat in Ibu Ketut’s arms. I had told them about the first time she showed me the skinny little thing that had strayed into their home. It was so unhealthy its little whiskers were broken and some even curled at odd angles, as in a cartoon caricature of an alley cat.

We said our goodbye and headed off again. We agreed to meet again at 10.45am to be at BAWA by 11am. Just Eliza and Jean were coming to the clinic. They met my two little friends Putu and Putu, who are regular volunteers at BAWA.

Nothing describes the joy I feel arriving at BAWA each Sunday. Putu and Putu are equally as excited because Lily, the daughter of my friend Sarah, joins them each week and the three have formed a great friendship. The girls know the ropes now and they are happy showing Eliza and Jean around. We make the introductions. Dr. Yogi and Dr. Kadek are the vets on duty and Apel is the vet assistant.

Puppies of all shapes and sizes and in varying stages of “on the way to” good health are ready and willing to accept all the love and attention these girls can give them. Their jobs range from changing the water dishes and the newspaper – old towels and material are desperately needed – bedding to walking the puppies and then the best job of all: playing with them and giving those much-needed cuddles.

Eliza and Jean are wonderful as they pick up and spend time with all the puppies and even the tiniest, totally hairless ones get cuddles that have their funny little hairless tails wagging in joy.

But there is a serious side to all this, just as in the movie, Australia. The staff at BAWA are fighting a seemingly endless battle to sterilise and immunise the Bali street dogs. Only with your help can this be done. Collars are desperately needed for the dogs that have been sterilised and immunised.

Perhaps you might consider: “Spend a dollar, buy a collar and save a Bali dog!”

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